SANDRA’S OFFICE PHONE rang; the sound broke her concentration as she studied the printout of museum holdings.
“Director Hadley would like to see you upstairs,” said Margaret. “Now.”
“I’m on my way.” Sandra rolled the kinks out of her neck and stared at the low-hanging ceiling in her office. She loved working for the Museum of Medieval Art, but she wondered what he wanted. She hotfooted it through the basement employee lounge, closed the door to the tiny, iron-scrolled elevator with a click, and hit the button for the third floor. She tucked her honey-blonde hair behind her ears and wished for the gift of clairvoyance.
Margaret ushered Sandra into the inner office overlooking an expansive view of Princes Street Gardens below, but Sandra’s attention was on Mr. Hadley, impeccably dressed in a gray suit with matching vest, and his guest. Both rose as she entered.
“Sandra, please join us. This is Neil McDonnell of Scotland Yard’s Art Crimes Unit. I’ve told him you are relatively new to our Curatorial Affairs department.”
The tall man next to Mr. Hadley nodded, his face still; his hand reached out to shake hers, firm and warm. Sandra automatically catalogued him: Hair a little long, tall, lanky, sure of himself, well dressed in a casual way, sweater vest and tie with a gray tweed jacket. Perhaps too good looking?
She sat on the edge of one of the chairs near a settee and waited.
“Tell us what you think of our main storage area.” Mr. Hadley’s eyes looked bloodshot; his expression not as welcoming as it was on her first day at the museum.
“The storage area seems adequate, so far.” Sandra paused, not certain what to say.
“Were you alone in the storage area,” Mr. Hadley glanced at his notes, “on the nights of Tuesday and Thursday last week, after museum hours?”
“Yes, sir. I was working on my preliminary collections report for Roger, I mean Mr. Ferguson. I was assured I could do so.”
“And your findings?” Mr. Hadley glanced at the man seated beside him.
“I’m still working on my report, but . . .”
“Can we see your findings?” Neil interrupted, his sharp green eyes missing nothing.
“Yes, of course,” said Sandra. “The report is little more than a list of artifacts and locations just now. I can go downstairs to print them out.”
Mr. Hadley shook his head. “Tell Margaret the file name. She will print it out for you.”
Within minutes, Margaret handed out copies of Sandra’s database report.
“I haven’t finished my review of the first floor storage unit,” Sandra explained.
Mr. Hadley waved his hand to cut Sandra off. “We can see your progress. Notice this, McDonnell.” He tapped on something in her report. “Do you have any other comment on the Saxon axe hammer than what is here?”
Sandra shook her head. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Was the hammer in Case 24 when you last visited?”
“Ah,” said Neil. “Can you explain why that item is no longer in its case?”
“What? It’s missing?” Sandra’s stomach lurched. While not a major item in the collection, the hammer was still valuable. But nothing should be missing. “What do the surveillance tapes show?”
Mr. Hadley and Neil exchanged a glance.
“The cameras were deactivated,” said Neil.
“How is that possible?” asked Sandra.
“That is just what we were going to ask you,” said Mr. Hadley.
The two men gazed at Sandra as if they expected an answer.
Sandra lifted her hands. “I know nothing of this.”
Mr. Hadley sighed. “Mr. McDonnell, will you take Sandra to the boardroom?” He gestured to the small room just outside his office. “Please cooperate fully with Mr. McDonnell, Sandra, and do not speak of this to anyone. Not your colleagues and not to your supervisor.” His normally affable face narrowed into harsh lines. “Do you understand?”
Sandra’s knees trembled, but she lifted her chin and followed Mr. McDonnell. Within minutes, she took a seat in the small meeting room. The last time she had been here, Roger had introduced her to museum staff and hinted she might help him with acquisitions, a nice jump up from her first task, to inventory the museum’s permanent collections. But now? And she wasn’t supposed to talk to her boss?
Neil McDonnell sat across from her, his fingers tapping on a manila file. Suddenly, he relaxed. “I haven’t introduced myself properly. I’m here in Edinburgh on temporary assignment from Scotland Yard’s Art Crimes Unit. Please call me Neil.”
Sandra nodded, but she didn’t speak. What could she say about the missing hammer? She knew nothing. A whisper of sweat bloomed on her forehead.
He opened the file. “If only the Saxon axe hammer were missing, most likely we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Since you were hired last month, a number of artifacts have gone missing.” He handed over a printout. “Could you please review this?”
Sandra stared at the list of eight items. She couldn’t see a pattern. The missing items were from across the museum’s collection. “I don’t recognize these.” She pointed at the list showing a page from an early medieval illuminated manuscript and a small ivory carving of the Virgin.
“Not surprising, as those two items went missing from the second floor storage area next to the framing workshop. I don’t believe you’ve been there, have you?”
“Only when Katherine Murray took me on a tour. She’s in charge of operations. I was scheduled to review their storage areas next week.”
Neil frowned. “And the others?”
“I’ve seen these in storage and accounted properly for them. I can’t explain why they are not where they should be.” She moved her fingers down the list. Only six items – a pocket-sized dagger, the Saxon axe hammer, a small, pillow-sized 13th century tapestry of a unicorn, and three Roman coins – but what a loss if these items were truly gone. “You don’t believe I’m involved in this, do you?”
“Nothing suggests you are, Sandra, but I have to ask these questions. Did you notice anything different at any time when you worked in the storage area?”
“No. I suppose I should have noticed if the cameras were not activated.”
“Perhaps,” replied Neil.
“Were the cameras not working throughout the museum?”
“Only for certain times.” Neil stared at her once again. “The log shows the cameras went offline each time you were on premises after hours and remained offline until morning.”
“I don’t understand how that could have happened. I have nothing to do with surveillance.” Sandra’s mind raced. Why weren’t the cameras working properly?
Neil pulled another sheet from his file. “Your employment history is somewhat varied, and in recent years, you haven’t held any one job for very long. That was suspicious at first. Can you explain?”
“There’s nothing to explain.” She straightened in her chair, his scent tickling her nose in the closed boardroom. “I worked at the San Francisco Art Institute while I pursued my degree in art history.” She almost smiled as she recalled her first internships. “My next job was as a paid intern at The Cloisters in New York for a year. Originally, I wanted to study art throughout Europe. Colleagues at The Cloisters recommended me for an internship at Cluny, which led to a work permit. Then, I learned of an opening here when I was in Paris. Mr. Hadley interviewed me online. I had hoped to stay in Edinburgh at least two years.”
“Something of a gypsy, no?” Neil nodded, his face a study in repose, the bone structure almost a Greek statue that Sandra would have liked to draw, despite the circumstances. “Your recommendations are faultless. Nevertheless, you are a new hire, and I had to ask.”
“I’m not sure what all that has to do with these missing artifacts,” said Sandra.
“Well, this is your first full-time job, then, isn’t it?”
“Not really. It’s my first full-time job as a curator.”
“Do you have student loans to pay off?”
“No, I do not. I resent your implication, Mr. McDonnell. I earned scholarships and worked my way through college.” Sandra pressed her lips into a thin line. “It seems to me that the larger issue is about the missing artifacts and not my personal background.”
“Please call me Neil. If we’re going to work together, I need to know your background.”
“Very well, Neil.” She drew his name out, as if she were being forced to use it. “You have my resume. What further questions do you have?”
“Perhaps we should start over?”
“I’m being accused of stealing precious artifacts, and you want to start over? This situation is scandalous. My job and my integrity are being questioned.”
Quiet stretched between them.
Sandra was determined not to speak first.
“Your job is not at risk,” said Neil. “Mr. Hadley actually believes, despite what he said earlier, that you are in an ideal position to help us catch the thief. Will you help us?”
Sandra took a breath, though the air in the boardroom felt close. She wished the door were open.
“Surprised? Perhaps you would like a few minutes?” asked Neil.
“When we were talking with Mr. Hadley, I thought my job was at risk. Now, you want me to work with you?”
“We . . . that is, Mr. Hadley suggested that because you are new to the museum, relatively speaking, and your work has been exemplary, that you would be in a good position to notice anything amiss. Frankly, I’m not so sure this strategy will work, but you are in a unique position to analyze the museum’s collections for missing items.”
“I would like to help.”
“Good. Nothing would change in your day-to-day routine. If you could be more observant of your co-workers. Perhaps notice anything that seems unusual. You would continue with your regular responsibilities. I understand that you are the first to review the collection since a Miss Fletcher retired?”
“Yes.” Sandra noticed he was less fearsome when he smiled. “Currently, I’m reviewing the collection to make sure our database includes all acquisitions since Miss Fletcher’s retirement last year. As we are not a very large museum, I essentially do wherever Roger tells me.”
Neil glanced around the boardroom. “After today, we will meet off site. As Mr. Hadley pointed out, no one here at the museum is to know that you are working with me.”
Sandra frowned. “But people know we’re meeting. Even Margaret.”
Neil shook his head. “No one except Mr. Hadley knows the exact nature of our conversation, not even Margaret. So, please do not mention our meetings to anyone. The thief could be using you as a cover, especially given the problems with the surveillance cameras.”
“But shouldn’t I report these problems with the cameras to Roger or Katherine? Don’t we need a system that works to prevent other thefts?”
“The surveillance system does seem to be working. Just not all the time. We may want to bring those two department heads in later. For the next week, I’d like to find out if there’s any kind of pattern for when those cameras malfunction.” Neil paused. “However, I would suggest you curtail working after hours for now. These thefts may be part of a larger ring of thefts that target small to mid-sized museums.”
“In other words, these are not thefts of opportunity, slash and grab.”
“Correct.” Neil passed his card to Sandra. “Should something happen, call me at either of these numbers at any time. I’d like to meet off-site at least twice a week.”
“Of course. It’s been quite a morning.” Sandra stared at Neil. “Should I be worried?”
Neil grinned. “Maybe a wee bit. But not about your job.”